Lake Earl History

The land around Lake Earl has been a conservation priority since 1975.

Pacific Shores is a 1,535-lot subdivision located on the shores of Lakes Earl and Tolowa, and adjacent to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Lake Earl Wildlife Area and the Tolowa Dunes State Park. Consisting largely of sensitive dune and wetland habitat, the land was subdivided in the 1960’s into approximately 1⁄2 acre lots, sold to individual lot owners, and approximately 27 miles of subdivision roads and an electric transmission line were constructed.

However, because of the sensitive habitat, natural hazards, water quality concerns, and difficulties in siting development and infrastructure such as sewage and water systems, the subdivision is a “white hole” in the certified Del Norte County Local Coastal Program, and therefore remains in the Coastal Commission’s permit jurisdiction. The Coastal Commission has not approved any residential development of the subdivision, and except for OHV trails that cross dunes and wetlands, some unpermitted campsites with trailers, and one home (constructed pre-Coastal Act and subsequently purchased by the State), the subdivision remains undeveloped. Due to the road access, historically the subdivision has had problems with illegal dumping. The road, unpermitted development and illegal dumping have degraded the wetland and dune habitat on the subdivision lands.

Lake Earl has been identified as a State acquisition priority since 1975 by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), and, beginning in 1977, a series of public acquisitions began to preserve and protect sensitive habitat land, leading to the designation of DFW’s Lake Earl Wildlife Area in 1979. However, the complexity of negotiating with over 1000 individual property owners and the continuing controversy over development proposals, resulted in the Pacific Shores lots remained largely in private hands until the early 2000s, when the Conservancy provided funding pre-acquisition activities that identified willing sellers and readied properties for purchase by the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB). By the end of the second phase, 711 lots had been acquired by WCB through this cooperative effort, bringing the total state ownership to 779 of the 1,535 lots. Since the completion of that program, the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority (BCRAA) acquired an additional 183 lots, which are being conveyed to the State, and additional lots have been transferred to the State in settlement of litigation, leaving approximately 430 lots still in private ownership. As Pacific Shores lots are acquired by the State, they are added to the Lake Earl Wildlife Area.